All Eyes on Energy Generation, But Don’t Forget Material Recycling : ISWA at COP21: Tax Carbon, Recognise the Role of Waste Management in Emission Cuts

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© COP21

The crucial role that improved waste management could play in mitigating climate change has been outlined by the International Solid Waste Association’s (ISWA) president, David Newman, at the COP21 Climate meeting in Paris.

He noted that while much of the debate has focused on energy, greater emphasis must be placed on materials, where enormous CO2 emission savings can be made by recycling materials such as aluminium, paper and textiles.

Addressing the audience Newman said:

“When we talk about climate change, if we don’t talk about materials we’re missing a huge sector of the possibility to reduce our impact on the plant. To do that you need industry. Industry which invests in technologies, industry which invests in collection systems around the world to get those materials back into a recycling stream – or when they can’t be recycled, back into an energy producing scheme.

“The good news is that that is happening all around the world, particularly in the developed parts of the world, but we’re also seeing signs now that the waste industry is coming into mainstream policies in developing countries. Where we see the waste industry working efficiently we see very significant reductions in CO2 emissions

“The calculation that not only we have made, is that the whole waste system, when it is working efficiently and to its maximum potential, can reduce up to 15 to 20% of a country’s CO2 emissions compared to a scene where waste is just dumped.

“Unfortunately the scenario where waste is just dumped still represents 70% of the world, particularly the developing world, where not only are we seeing CO2 emissions, but a lot of short lived climate pollutants such as black soot from the burning of dumpsites. We know these dumpsites are the most toxic places on earth.”

The ISWA president also called for COP21 to better recognise the impact that better management of organic wastes could have.

Newman went on to highlight the Global Waste Management Outlook (GWMO) report, published jointly by ISWA and UNEP in September this year (See Sept/Oct issue of WMW), before calling for a price on carbon.

Speaking in September at the launch of the report at the ISWA Congress 2015 in Antwerp, Newman told delegates that “we need a carbon tax and we need it now”.

Tackle Methane and Go Circular

Making the case alongside David Newman in Paris was Gary Crawford, Veolia vice president. He argued also that waste management offers a huge opportunity to mitigate climate change.

“When we talk about methane emissions, which is a short lived climate pollutant, there’s really significant potential because we can act on methane right away,” he said. “It has an atmospheric life of only 12 years… with a global warming potential significantly higher, 28 times higher over a 100 year period but almost 82 times higher than CO2 over a 20 year period.”

“We’re really strongly working on the SLCP, the methane element of it. But what we’re working to more and more is a circular economy. When we look at the circular economy we see that there is significant benefits for turning waste into a resource,” Crawford added.

“There are many challenges, but we think that the circular economy is the way to go, as well as working on the short lived climate pollutants,” he continued.

However, Crawford conceded that there are a number of challenges, and while technologies exist, projects are not scaling up in developing countries as well as had been hoped. The key, he said, is finance.

“That’s the missing link,” asserted Crawford. “For really getting it to where investors are confident and look at this as a lower risk level for investing in projects in developing countries, I think the work that’s going on right now in terms of setting a price for carbon will be key.”

Wish List

In summing up, Newman said that ISWA has sent a declaration to the COP21 secretariat, and will be working with it on common platforms in the future. He also called upon governments to:

Take into account the potential of the waste and resource management industry in cutting emissions

Prioritise waste and resource strategy in national planning

Create a robust agreement in Paris that creates “clear, long term and predictable legislative and fiscal frameworks to scale up the implementation of climate friendly solutions”

Recognise that in order to respond to climate change major public and private investments are required to develop, transfer and construct low carbon technology

Put in place the necessary mechanisms to derisk investment in green technologies.

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